“Unprecedented times” — I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard that phrase in the past six months. I’m sure you are all sick of it — I know I am — but one thing I will tell you is that, for business, times really are different in a number of ways.
We Are Busier Than Ever
Everyone is home and for need our services a number of reasons.
We are doing innumerable network upgrades. These are typically great — in and out in a day and the client is extremely happy. And these clients are the most likely to sign onto paid support plans. With everyone working and schooling from home, the network is more critical than ever and they finally are experiencing that the consumer-grade garbage sold on Amazon or, worse, provided by their ISP just doesn’t cut it.
We are also getting a good amount of AV upgrades and updates. Nagging issues that used to not be such a big deal are turning into a much bigger issue now that the only entertainment is what you have at home. We are upgrading control systems, tearing out 10-year-old receivers and HDMI matrices to put in 4K-capable equipment. And larger, better TVs are a must-have.
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Jobs Are Smaller
While we are crazy busy, the jobs are definitely smaller than has been typical. The main reason is that almost everything is now a retrofit. No one is buying real estate and gutting or knocking down the existing structure and starting from scratch. This trend is caused by a couple of different reasons. The real estate market in NYC is in flux — no one knows how it will be impacted long term, so most people are staying put for now or holing up in their summer homes. Secondly, no one wants to start a major construction or renovation project right now because they are concerned about it being shut down in the middle if there is another outbreak this winter. If case counts stay reasonable throughout the winter, I think the construction market and the larger jobs will pick up considerably in the spring, but right now it is a wait and see attitude.
Inventory Is a Mess
Have you tried to get an AVR lately? Or a Sonos Port? The pickings are pretty slim. We have had do something I typically preach against, which is sell and install product that is not in our typical product set. My mantra has always been to live with a product in my own home for six months before selling it into a client. But with the dearth of hardware out there, we have had to scramble and install receivers from brands we typically do not carry and have used HEOS on a couple of jobs because Sonos was backordered for months (at least for dealers and not consumers — but that’s another story).
In some cases, product has been available at retail, but not through our direct channels. For smaller items on larger jobs, I have just eaten the cost and made no profit on a particular item. For others, we have substituted different brands as above and for still others, I have told clients that they should buy the hardware directly as our wholesale channels are devoid of inventory. It is very frustrating to have to purchase at retail or have the client buy the hardware and lose all the margin, but at this point getting the job completed, pleasing the client, and getting paid are the priorities.
We have also taken to stocking more inventory ourselves, ordering WAPs and Sonos Ports by the dozens to be sure we can meet client demand. Kudos here to SnapAV and Crestron — they have been the most in-stock of any manufacturing partners we work with and have had very few product availability issues.
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Driving and Parking
This one is unique to major cities. Our team is not comfortable on public transportation so everyone is driving to every job. Historically, one installer would drive to the warehouse and load up a truck with everything needed for the install that day (or for multiple days) and the others would take the subway and meet at the job site. Not anymore. Now everyone is driving. We have been generous and are paying tolls and parking for everyone to ensure they can get to the job sites and are safe doing so. The last thing we need is someone getting sick because they took the subway and now we are shut down for two weeks.
With all of this said, we are having a solid year and should do as well, if not better, than last year. Things have been crazy here in the NY/NJ area, and we had essentially no work for three months from March–June, but things picked up and we are rocking on. I Hope you all are seeing the same in your businesses.
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